Beat Those Career Blues

Unhappy at work? Here are ways for you to find new employment in your job
By Mark Golin, Mark Bricklin, David Diamond, And The Rodale Center For Executive Development

Four out of five people dislike something about their job. That is the conclusion of Richard Germann, a career management consultant who has counseled workers for 25 years. The trouble is that liking your job is essential for success. “Those who don’t enjoy their work will ultimately fail,” says Germann.

Why are so many people unhappy in their jobs? There are two primary reasons. First, some people are convinced that earning a living is wasting time that they could spend enjoying themselves or uncovering their true talents.

If this is the case with you, recall your last long vacation. Was it two weeks of complete enjoyment? More likely it was a week and a half of fun in the sun with another half a week of “Boy, I can’t wait to get back to work.” If you didn’t feel such vacation blues, then imagine taking a leave of absence. You could use it to work on a novel, enroll in classes or just sit around watching TV. At the end of three months, in all likelihood, your self-esteem would be at an all-time low. While all work and no play is no good, all play and no work is disastrous. We need to feel we are accomplishing something. We also need some form of order in our lives.

The second and perhaps more prevalent reason for people not to like their work is that they feel trapped. Once you’ve been at a company for five years and have a spouse, a mortgage and a child, you often feel you have very little choice about jumping ship if things aren’t turning out as you’d planned. A steady paycheck can be the biggest manacle of all. People resent having to do something because they have no other choice.

If you find yourself resenting your job because you can’t afford to quit, it may be time to prepare what one career counselor humorously calls a “cyanide capsule.” He recalls spy movies in which the secret agent has such a capsule hidden somewhere on his body. If he’s captured and tortured unbearably, he has an option. And having an option gives him the strength to hold on a little longer in the hope that the situation may change.

Rather than cyanide, your option takes the form of an up-to-date résumé. You might also take a weekly glance through the help-wanted section, and make some visits to industry functions where low-key networking can take place. You’re not giving up your current job. Rather, you are providing yourself with an option. If things get unbearable at work, you could jump ship. Being in this position can do wonders for your attitude. It allows you to enjoy your work since, in reality, you are there only because you want to be.

At the core of adopting a positive attitude to your workplace is, above all, assuming responsibility for your own situation. “Most people feel controlled by their environment, but they really aren’t,” says career management consultant Diane Blumenson. “They have to learn to manage that environment so they can get from it what they need.”

Remember, nobody — neither boss nor peer — is likely to have the time or inclination to help you overcome your career blahs. It’s largely up to you to do what you can to initiate a change in attitude. Here are five ways to get started:

1. Dream a little, plan a lot. Richard Germann often tells unhappy clients to fantasize about their dream job — everything from what they would really like to be doing to what sort of office environment they prefer. This encourages people to formulate their own definition of job satisfaction. Without that definition or goal, it’s easy to feel depressed at work.

To do this exercise, break your ideal job into the smallest possible parts. If you see yourself as a junior executive working under a great boss in marketing, when in fact you’re a clerk working under a tyrant in purchasing, look for “steppingstone” goals that will advance you to the next position.

For example, you might first see whether you can get a transfer to a different section of purchasing to escape the tyrant’s clutches. Or why not go for a low-level position in marketing? Then get some additional training or schooling so that you look like a good executive candidate. At the very least, find out what qualifications you will need to move up the ladder. Developing and following your own plan of action is one of the biggest way to improve your attitude.

2. Think yourself as autonomous. Imagine that you are an independent contractor, You-Yourself Enterprises, with one major client — your employer. Then allocate your time so that you not only meet the demands of your client but also have room to develop aspects of your business that you see as necessary for your own future growth.

Let’s say you’re working at a job that requires you to write reports and you find out you can produce nice phrases. That may not matter to your superiors, but you, as an independent contractor, should realize that your writing skills may open a whole new area of sales. So rather than turn in the ordinary verbiage expected in reports, you should take the time to make your sentences glow and thereby perfect your product for a broader market.

The most useful part of this concept is that it moves you from an outwardly controlled motivation of simply pleasing your boss to one where you recognize and improve your skills for your own reasons.

3. Separate work and play. Picture this: You invite a friend to stay at your place for a few days. The second day, his clothes are everywhere. On the third day, his huge dog has taken up residence on your couch. By the fourth day, you can’t park in your garage because his car is there. Are you getting annoyed?

The same thing happens with some people and their careers. At first they work the occasional extra hour or two in the evening. Then they start taking work home regularly during the week. Soon, weekends have become nothing more than office hours. In effect, work becomes the ill-mannered guest that takes up more and more space and time. Suddenly people don’t have a life apart from work, and they resent it.

This is not to say that taking work home is taboo. But doing it all the time is. If you do have a heavy workload, alternate evenings of intensive work and intensive leisure. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings, for instance, do your work and try not to get sidetracked. But on your leisure nights, don’t even bother taking work home.

4. Look for success outside of work. Take your hobbies and leisure activities as seriously as you do your work and take the same kind of pride in them. Too many people fall into the trap of getting their whole sense of identity from the office. This is great when things are going well, but if your self-esteem is a direct outcome of your work situation, you will feel humiliated when the going gets rough. If you can tie your self-esteem to your outside endeavors, you can maintain a positive attitude even if the office forecast calls for thunderstorms.

5. Change your attitude toward others. If you dread going to work each morning, it’s probably partly because you’re not getting along with those around you. You don’t have to like the people you work with, but at the very least you should be able to interact positively with them.

When you smile in an elevator, your fellow passengers respond with a smile. The same thing can happen in the office. “If you initiate positive interaction, you’re inviting positive reaction,” says Diane Blumenson. “It’s human nature to react in kind.”

Don’t worry that suddenly striking up relationships with people you heretofore ignored will come across as insincerity. The fact is, you are being sincere in your efforts to improve work relations, and that will be felt by your co-workers.

If you’ve lapsed into a pattern of complaining — about your job, your boss, the weather — start talking to people in a more positive way. Talk about things you enjoy. It’s likely you’ll find something in common with at least some of your co-workers.

Change your attitude, and you’re likely to change how people feel about you. They may actually like having you around. And you may actually start to like being around.


You can sit around bemoaning that you are not in the fast lane, that you’re underpaid, that the corporate world is not treating you the way you’d like, but it won’t do you any good. Cash, power and prestige must come to you from your employer. But self-esteem, pride in a job well done and a sense of importance are all bonuses you can give yourself. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by learning to find enjoyment in your work.

Condensed from “SECRETS OF EXECUTIVE SUCCESS,” Copyright (C) 1991 by Rodale Press, Inc.
Is published by Rodale Press, Inc, Emmaus, Pennsylvania

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